The Ladies' Tea Guild

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Historic Cooking: Californio-style Chocolate from ca. 1777.

A cup of Californio-style Chocolate.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Redone Challenge(s): Sweet Sips and Potent Potables April 5 - April 18, 2015, and History Detective (January 29 - February 11, 2016) 

Foodways from the Spanish and Mexican colonization period of California’s history is not a very widely-talked about subject.  The documents that contain the information about food during this period are largely still in 18th century/early 19th century Spanish, although some of them have begun to be translated into English and other languages in the past few years.  The available documents are also mostly from the very beginning of the Spanish colonial era (begun in mainland Mexico in the 16th century) or from the very end of the Mexican colonial era – or even afterward, in the later memories of the people who lived in California during that time.  Therefore, a fair amount of extrapolation is necessary to re-create foods that would have been familiar to the Californios – people of Hispanic descent who lived in California before the Gold Rush. 

Chocolate began as a bitter, spicy beverage among the Aztec elite.  They drank it for religious/ceremonial purposes as well as ordinary ones and incorporated many local flowers and spices in its manufacture.  They used cacao beans and pods as a form of currency and presented it as gifts to other rulers, including the Spanish conquistadors, when they first arrived. 

The Recipe: The recipe I ended up using is an amalgamation of multiple original recipes from the period.  The earliest Spanish recipe that I could find for chocolate was written by Antonio Colmenero, translated by Don Diego de Vades-forte in "A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate" which was published in London in 1640, in Spain before 1631.  It includes the original Aztec ingredients, as well as Spanish substitutions for some of the items that were unavailable in Spain, and instructions for preparing the cacao beans and spices so that they are ready to melt in hot water.  

“To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”
The spices used in flavoring Californio Chocolate.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
I took the ingredient list largely from the above recipe, and the diary of Father Pedro Font, who was one of the padres who led the Spanish settlers to California in the mid-18th century, and who recorded the food items that were brought on the trip (including chocolate and chiles).  I combined the chocolate and other ingredients according to another 17th-century document, which re-printed Colmenero’s recipe, and added information about different ways of preparing the chocolate:

“There is another way, which is a shorter and quicker way of making it, for men of businesse, who cannot stay long about it; and it is more wholsome; and it is that, which I use. That is, first to set some water to warm; and while it warms, you throw a Tablet, or some Chocolate, scraped, and mingled with sugar, into a little Cup; and when the water is hot, you powre the water to the Chocolate, and then dissolve it with the Molinet; and then, without taking off the scum, drink it as is before directed. …

Set a Pot of Conduit Water over the fire untill it boiles, then to every person that is to drink, put an ounce of Chocolate, with as much Sugar into another Pot; wherein you must poure a pint of the said boiling Water, and therein mingle the Chocolate and the Sugar, with the instrument called El Molinillo, untill it be thoroughly incorporated: which done, poure in as many halfe pints of the said Water as there be ounces of Chocolate.”
--From "Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke." London, 1652, by Capt. John Wadsworth. Apparently a translation of abook by Melchor de Lara, "Physitian General for the Kingdome of Spaine", 1631.

By the Gold Rush period (1848-1860), pre-prepared chocolate, already mixed with sugar and flavorings, was available in tablet or “cake” form, and it is this commercially-produced product which is called for in the later Californio recipes, like the one from Doña Encarnación Pinedo: 
Still Life with Chocolate and Rolls,
Luís Egidio Meléndez, 1770.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
“Chocolate en agua (Chocolate in water).

Put the tablet [of chocolate] with water on the fire, in an amount a little larger than you need to fill the chocolate cup you are going to serve it in, and when you have brought it to a boil, take it off and completely break up the tablet with the chocolate beater [molinillo], and mix it with the water. Put it back on the fire to boil, and when it starts to rise, remove it a second time. To serve, beat it and pour half a cup, and return to beating. Then fill the cup, making sure the top is covered with foam.”
--From Encarnación’s Kitchen: Mexican Recipes from Nineteenth-Century California, by Encarnación Pinedo, a collection of excerpts from El Cocinero Español, published in 1898 in San Francisco, California’s first Spanish-language cookbook.

Doña Encarnación Pinedo was born in 1848 to a prominent Californio family, educated at a convent school in San Jose, and was taught all the old Californio recipes as a young girl. She wrote her book, originally, for her nieces, who had an Anglo father, married Yankees, lived in a much more Americanized California, and were in danger of living life without knowing their Spanish Californio heritage. The book, therefore, preserves older recipes from early 19th century California, during the Mexican colonial period, which just preceded Doña Encarnación’s birth.

The Date/Year and Region: California during Spanish and Mexican colonization, ca. 1776 – 1845. 
The volcanic rock molcajetes, and mortars and
pestles, used for grinding the spices.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

How Did You Make It:

Californio-style Hot Chocolate
1 cup water
1 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1 T. piloncillo or raw sugar (you can add more if you want it very sweet)
1 grain of achiote
1/6th of a Ceylon cinnamon stick
1 pinch chili pepper or crushed red pepper
1 pinch dried rose petals
1 drop vanilla extract, or ½-inch piece of vanilla pod
1 whole clove [optional]
1 small pinch anise or fennel seeds [optional]
1 black peppercorn [optional]
1 splash of rose water or orange flower water [optional]
1 almond or 2 pine nuts [optional]

First, measure out your spices and crush/grind them to a powder in a mortar and pestle; don’t worry if the cinnamon stick won’t pulverize completely.  Add the nuts, if using, and grind them to a powder, too.  Add the piloncillo or raw sugar (or regular sugar cubes) to the spices, and also grind them up.  Set aside.  In a saucepan, put the water, and bring it to a boil; then add the chocolate, and stir with a wooden spoon until it is mostly dissolved.  Put down the spoon and pick up a wooden molinillo (if you have one, or use a modern whisk), and begin to whisk the melting chocolate, over medium heat, breaking it up against the side of the saucepan, and tilting the saucepan as needed to gather all the chocolate mixture to one side of the saucepan for easier whisking.

When the chocolate is all melted, add the spices and sugar, and whisk over medium heat until you can smell the spices, and the mixture just comes to a bubble in the saucepan.  If desired, add the rose water and/or vanilla extract, then remove the chocolate from the heat, and whisk until the top of the chocolate is covered with tiny frothy bubbles.  Pour into a cup and serve.  Makes 1 cup of chocolate (but scales up for multiple cups easily).

I discovered that the chocolate needed to be melted in the water over a heat source, and didn’t dissolve sufficiently by simply being covered with hot water and whisked; it is also easier to make multiple cups of chocolate at a time, rather than just one, because 1 cup of water in a regular saucepan isn’t easy to whisk!  (I also did not use the nuts in my recipe, since I’m allergic to nuts, but I’ve included them because they are mentioned in the period sources.) 

Chocolate pots used at Santa Barbara
presidio. Photo: Santa Barbara Trust
Time to Complete: 10 to 15 minutes.

Total Cost: Under $20, but then you have enough spices for many cups of chocolate.  Baking chocolate comes in 4 oz. tablets that are conveniently scored into cubes that break easily.

How Successful Was It?: The chocolate wasn’t as rich as I was used to, being made with water instead of milk or cream (and many Mexican Hot Chocolate drinks are also thickened with eggs, into a sort of custard), and it was definitely less sweet than I’m used to.  I found that too much chili in the spice mix makes the flavor of the other spices disappear, so I tend to use cinnamon and clove for most of the spicy heat, and only a tiny amount of chili.

I also used this basic recipe at the school where I work, with the 4th-grade students, although I had to adapt the recipe to use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate because that’s what the school purchased.  I used about 1 cup of cocoa powder for every 6 cups of water, because it tended to thicken too much the longer it remained on the heat (waiting for the students to finish grinding their spices).  The students chose their own spice mixture from the above list, the only ingredient mandate being that they choose at least 2 spices/flavorings, and not just add a bunch of sugar.  Most thought it tasted too spicy with only 3 sugar cubes’ worth of sugar, but they liked it better when they were allowed to use 4 sugar cubes; several of them still thought it was too spicy, several wanted to add some cold water, but a handful of others loved the taste and finished their whole cup. 

Chocolate grinding metate and mano, from Coco-Story,
the chocolate museum, Bruges (Belgium).
Photo: Creative Commons by Yelkrokoyade
How Accurate Is It?: The usual allowances made for using an electric stove and a modern stainless steel saucepan, instead of a pottery “olla de chocolate” (chocolate pot) over a fire or container of coals, and I’d say this is as close as we can get to the flavor of drinking chocolate in California before the Gold Rush!  I did buy a Mexican-style molinillo to use for the whisking, and it has the advantage of not scratching the surface of my modern saucepan, but it has the disadvantage of requiring to be used with a saucepan with tall sides, which will contain the splashes of scalding chocolate, as it is being whisked.  I also bought an English-style pottery chocolate pot from Townsends, which I showed to the kids, along with a picture of artifact chocolate pots used at the Santa Barbara Presidio, which reside in a museum there.  

Additional resources:
“Spanish and MesoAmerican Foodways” by “Elinor Strangewayes” the SCA persona of the owner of the “Life as a Professional Time-Traveler” blog  
“Spanish Chocolate” from the Spanish Seamstress blog

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)